HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

Starting a New Lesson


Awesome! You have an idea for a new lesson.  This is one you’ve pulled out of your own creative mind or maybe you’ve seen one photo of this lesson end product, but there’s no tutorial to be found.  Where do you start?

Here’s where I begin when I am designing a lesson from scratch or near scratch.

  • Make a sample or two.
    • This will help you to decide on which materials will actually work the best and think about if it’s realistic to prep said materials.  
For example, I’ve seen projects where the background involves the use of lots of little pieces of paper or tissue paper, etc.  And I consider- Is this something I would really like to take the time to prep for 90-120 students (in a grade level)?  Is it something the students could do instead of me?  But most importantly- would completing this step be part of a valuable learning experience?  Sometimes the answer is just, no.  If that’s the case, I’ll make another sample or two to test out an alternative solution to that material.
  • Make step by step samples.  Break your project end product into stages.  You could prepare a sample of what the goal for each day’s work will be.  For example, I want to show a completed pencil drawing that’s also traced in sharpie for the end of day 1.  Or it could be broken into even smaller steps.  Example: show a paper with a completed pencil drawn foreground, the next paper shows the addition of the background and the next shows it all traced in sharpie marker.  

If you have a document camera in your classroom or can scan it into your computer, use your screen to show these samples one at a time.  This is a great way to modify for any students who may have processing difficulties.  You may also have students who benefit from having these samples photocopied for them so that they can have it right in front of them. Certain disabilities make the transfer of information from looking up at a screen to downwards at a paper very difficult.

It’s not that we want to encourage that everyone’s art looks the same, it’s that we want to provide a road map for our students of where we are headed.  It really helps to know what the general goal is.  You give your directions orally, show them in a demonstration, this is a way to hit one more learning style and provide visual cues.
  • Prep the materials.  Start with what you’ll need for day one. As I see my students once per week this means I am preparing for just one or two steps. So cut all the paper to the size you want it, pour the paint into cups, make the copies of the samples.  If I need a set of paints for each table, I use plastic trays to organize five sets of paint cups (I have five tables in my art room).  This way when that class is ready, I can direct my student helpers to place a tray on each table.  As far as painting is concerned, I always keep my water cups filled and on a tray so that I can easily bring them to my supply area and again direct students to retrieve water cups for their table.
  • Create a visual rubric.  Another tool that’s great to use is a visual rubric poster or doc camera sized paper.  Show students three work examples.  A one star, two star and three star work for example.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be stars, it could be numerals as well. Use different strategies for different grade levels. Ask the students why an example receives and one and why another receives a three.  They will most likely get it without you having to explain any more.  This is a tool you can refer back to, especially with your early finishers, to ask them to self-evaluate.
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Think about how you’ll deliver the directions. 

  • You will probably be thinking about this as you’re making your samples, but sometimes it doesn’t fully formulate for me until I am preparing the supplies. Remember to break it down into even the simplest parts- assume nothing!  
  • Have the paper ready on the tables.  However, remember too many supplies will be a distraction during your introduction.
  • Deliver your talk about the objectives.  Engage students in discussion.  
  • Consider what questions you may ask them to elicit responses.  “Questioning” and “student engagement” are hot topics in education right now.  There are lots of resources to be explored on this.
  • Perhaps have the students gather in one area so that you may demonstrate.  OR you can demonstrate on your document camera screen if you have one.
  • Direct the students to write their name and class.  Tell them what tool to use and expect to repeat this direction two to three times.
  • Direct students to turn the paper over and if needed specify which direction to hold the paper.  Check on this.  Remember, don’t assume! We want everyone to feel successful and having the right set up is the starting point for this success.
  • Now you can begin showing your samples.  You can put it on the board or screen and then walk around to help and assess how your students are doing. Continue following through with your steps.
you might consider making a directions handout for each of your tables

Once you are actually teaching this lesson.  Take the time to jot down a few notes about what worked procedurally or what didn’t.  

You can change the way you deliver information for the next class or even just the order in which you gave it.  Maybe you planned too much for day one. Scale it back for the next class. This is the major benefit to teaching the same lesson four or five times in a week, you have a real chance to perfect it. Teaching a fluid, malleable thing. Don’t stick with a plan that isn’t working just because that was the initial plan.
If you are new(er) to teaching, even plan out your clean up procedures. What is going to make it as quick and painless as possible?

Elementary students also thrive on routine and knowing what to expect.  When you have a road map for them, when you can show examples, when the whole of the art class experience in broken down into manageable chunks, they will feel more secure and will produce great work.  Needless to say your attitude is exponentially improved by feeling organized and this absolutely comes out in the teaching.  I’ll end this with a favorite quote about teaching and the learning environment to hammer my point home!


Hope you enjoyed this post! Thanks for reading!

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